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There is a LighT ThaT Never goes ouT

By Drew TewksBury

With such an impressive body of video work, why did you decide to stop making music videos? My interest was always in movies and the whole video thing was a tangent, in a weird way. I don’t regret it—it was interesting and fun and I met great people, some of my idols—but I always wanted to make films. I hung around doing it for about five years longer than I should have; I wasted a couple of prime years where I could have been making movies. It coincided with the music business going into the toilet, financially. In the ’90s it seemed like videos were something people paid attention to but around 2002 or 2003 it didn’t seem like videos were culturally relevant anymore. Which coincided with the rise of YouTube and the end of MTV’s video programming, right? Yeah, but maybe it will come back around again; I know there’s a lot of music out there. I have an iPad and I’ll buy a video I want to watch for two bucks; I don’t have to watch MTV. A lot of things seemed to change the music video business. Your videos were usually big budget affairs, but it seems like all the budgets have been slashed and the best videos today are indies. It forced people to become clever and do a lot with a little. I made a lot of big budget videos and a lot with reasonable budgets, too. Whether it’s after-hours dancing in South African juke joints, moonwalking in spaceships or jet skiing in the Los Angeles harbor, Mark Romanek takes you everywhere you want to be. The Chicago-born director was one of the true auteurs of the MTV era, creating awardwinning clips that defined and redefined the ways music videos were made and watched. No longer were videos simply advertisements for a band—in the pre-MTV era, music videos were called “promos”—Romanek created short films that interpreted sounds into full-on visions. He followed Jay-Z through gritty N.Y.C. landscapes for “99 Problems,” captured Johnny Cash’s final moments in the Flemish-painting-come-to-life heart wrench of “Hurt,” and his oft-imitated images from Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” stirred controversy with their secret-chamber, proto-porn style submerged in Sepia tone. Then there was “Scream,” the $7 million space odyssey for Michael and Janet Jackson’s collaboration which premiered on prime time television and holds the Guinness World Record for the most expensive music video ever made. Romanek joined the prestigious ranks of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham in 2005 when The Director’s Label released a compendium of his video and commercial work. That same year, he chose to stop making music videos, shifting his focus to feature filmmaking. In 2002, he released the skincrawlingly creepy One Hour Photo, the story of a sadistic grocery store photo tech played by Robin Williams that Romanek wrote and directed. It earned modest acclaim, and by 2005 Romanek was ready for a follow-up, but a series of development nightmares, business battles and some unlucky events kept him from putting out a new film. His production for the adaptation of A Cold Case, starring Tom Hanks, was caught in limbo, then Romanek signed on for A Million Little Pieces, which fell apart when the author of the popular book was famously outed as a fraud. After stepping down from the Benicio del Toro-fronted The Wolfman, Romanek has finally found his way with his telling of Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, Never Let Me Go. The film tells the story of three children at an English boarding school who grow up together, learning about love, friendship and the terrifying truth of their existence. Starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield as the young adults born into a quiet yet insane world, Never Let Me Go is filled with subtle, exquisite moments of hope and despair. Technically a work of science fiction, Romanek’s artistic skill and deft interpretations of light, nature and humanity infuse the film with all the ache and beauty of a Joy Division song. Here, FILTER speaks with Romanek about his long history of video making and the emotionally enrapturing vision of Never Let Me Go. Like the video for “Cochise” by Audioslave, where you used only fireworks to light the band... The song seemed explosive sounding to me so I thought of a Fourth of July fireworks display. I was looking for ways to light things differently because it seems like light, or the capturing of light, is the essence of what filmmaking is: thinking about ways to light things. Looking at your photography, videos and films, it seems you think this way about cameras, too. “Closer,” for example, has this old, Victorian-era, Daguerreotype film style. What interests you in technology and film? My early experiences were very, very analog. There’s a romance there that goes back 150 years or more. There’s something tactile and appealing about those gadgets; the sewing machine sound of an old camera is kind of romantic. I embrace all the digital stuff; I’ve been shooting on the RED [Digital Cinema] cam and I find it all very interesting and exciting in its own way, but I still think that film has poetry to

The Love Stories of Director Mark Romanek


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A music video is a marketing tool for a rock band that needs to grab you by the collar and work on a small screen and be controversial and clever or gimmicky. It’s a different thing; it’s fun and part of pop culture. But telling a movie story that’s trying to have depth of emotion and have real meaning for people, it was a whole other thought process—especially when it’s based on a respected, brilliant and beloved novel. And it’s more complex because a music video is usually just a song and a movie is an entire separate tool kit in the ways you communicate meaning and emotion. What drew you to Kazuo Ishiguro’s book in particular? I’ve read all his books; I got this the week it came out. I was unbelievably moved to tears by the end of it. I was also really engaged intellectually by the issues in the book; it really delivered quite an impact. I guess I’m drawn to things I’ve never quite seen before and I felt a film like this would be rather original. It took the soft science fiction things we’ve seen in other films, but its tone and attention [were different]. I had trouble finding a template to [compare this film’s] look and sound [to] and that’s very exciting. I’m also looking for something that’s daring in the sense that you’ve never seen it before but that has a sincere expression about being human beings in the world—basically something that isn’t full of shit. I thought this story has both of those things. The overarching theme that intrigued me is that life is of a limited length. We only have 80 to 90 years if we’re lucky and then it’s over. What the book seemed to be about was how to make the best use of that time—how you come to the end of your life and not regret how you lived it. It’s hard not to be moved by a book that examines that. But what Ishiguro did was so clever because he concentrated life into these young people’s lives, as well as what he made terrible about bioengineering. Your film doesn’t tend to dwell on that subtext. Was that intentional? I don’t think about these things that much. I don’t think about the broader social, controversial aspects of it because it’s my job as a storyteller to make a love story. And there are several things you could discuss that usurp how this love story exists in this parallel world. I thought about how human beings behave emotionally and what they want and [I focused on] how to make this love story moving and engrossing and tragic. F

Mark Romanek with Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley on the set of Never Let Me Go
it. I really wanted to reconnect to tactile arts and crafts, a touchable version of crafting film, because I felt like I was getting too removed from that process with all the computers and everything. Much of Never Let Me Go feels like a candid photograph; it captures these emotional experiences that feel very intimate. With all the cameras rolling on set, how do you help your actors create these emotional scenes? I don’t know if you can convey that but you have to hire people who have that skill set to access the emotions and the technique as actors, and have the talent to blank out all the distractions. It’s what great actors do; you try to create an environment conducive to that as much as you can. A lot of actors can read the lines and not bump into the furniture, but to create a work of art out of a performance in a 90-minute movie is quite an accomplishment. For them to do it and to be so young is kind of astonishing. What sorts of things did you learn from making music videos that you transferred onto Never Let Me Go? I guess what I liked about making music videos was that in order for them to bear repeated viewing, you had to make it so people were like, “We have to see it again” or “I don’t mind watching that 10 times.” One of the gimmicks that I used was making it a bit enigmatic or puzzling or something you took in with your right-brain and not your left-brain. Over the 15 years of making music videos, I got extremely comfortable with the craft and technical side of filmmaking so I had a pretty good handle on that stuff, just from doing it over and over. That really helps you as a feature filmmaker because you don’t really have to worry about that stuff; you can worry about the more subtle, nuanced challenges of making a film, which is telling the story correctly. At many points during the film, the natural atmosphere of a scene becomes its soundtrack. How did you make that choice? One of the things I wanted to do with the movie was to create a hybrid between a Japanese and British sensibility. It was already going to be a very British movie because of where we were pointing the camera, so I thought it would be interesting for the filmmaking to take on a subtle Japanese quality; that carried through to how we approached the sound of the film as well. I was trying to evoke the part of nature that was the passage of time, whether it be the sound of crashing waves or wind or the ticking of a clock. A lot of attention was paid to that aspect. That seems different from your music video past where the song dictates what’s on-screen; here, the sound reflects what is on-screen.

How does the Fiesta get more miles per gallon than many hybrids?* Two words: thoughtful engineering. The kind that understands that giving the Fiesta a Ti-VCT engine will allow it to squeeze every last drop. Or that a line cutting through the taillamp will make the Fiesta more aerodynamic, and therefore more fuel-efficient. But these are only a few of the many reasons the Fiesta can go farther than so many other cars. Including all those hybrids.


Alex BAiley


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*EPA-estimated 29 city/40 hwy/33 combined mpg, automatic SFE vs. 2010/2011 hybrids. Fiesta SES shown. EPA-estimated 29 city/38 hwy/33 combined mpg, automatic.